Content Warning for: nudity
True to his word, Franco got the kids back to Twinbrook in the morning. No one sent them back to the city again, so he was free to enjoy his adults-only life.
The next Monday was Memorial Day, and Franco and Seng wanted to spend it inside. They had an unopened copy of Passchendaele II that got forgotten in a whirlwind of exams. They wasted a whole day with it and still played as the sun started to set on the Pacific coast.
As Seng kicked his ass in two-player mode, Franco felt another familiar glow on the back on his neck. Was Annette coming back to explain herself? However she could without her ring, anyways. Franco still had that between two folded oxford shirts. But no matter how she got there, he wanted to hear from Annette. It had been so long; eight days since she had been presumably arrested.
Whatever landed there sounded heavy and fleshy, like a human or two of them. And it couldn’t be Annette, who always landed through any warp on her feet.
Both men got up from the loveseat to investigate, shocked with who they saw. Maybe Franco should have stopped expecting Annette, because for the second time, he got his hopes up too much.
Instead, it was Sinbad and Amy together, who landed in a heap and on all-fours. And while Franco overflowed with fondness for his stepparents, he couldn’t help but cringe at their garb. A corset and stockings for Amy, and an open jacket and miniskirt for Sinbad.
It sickened him. Filth could proliferate without mum after all.
Seng snapped at him. “Okay, which ones are these, then?”
Franco rolled his eyes. “My stepparents. I’m sure there’s a reason for this too.”
“It’s your mum’s fucking black magic, okay?”
“Yeah…that…is there some sort of party going on at home? Because I’ll try and beam you back. I got mum’s ring.”
Amy curled up as she thought about it. “No, and maybe we could stay in Bridgeport for a bit. We can get a hotel and visit my cousin Cressida-”
“Or I can ask you what’s been going on lately.” Franco interjected. “Seng, fetch them some of your clothes that you don’t care about. This is getting awkward.”
Seng grabbed grungy jeans and shirts he didn’t care about. From one slender Asian to another, his clothes fit Sinbad and Amy quite well.
They gathered around the couch again as a dressed Amy hung her head down and started. “We hoped this would just be a minor hiccup, but I guess we have to tell you guys now.”
When Julian was talking about police sirens, Franco was able to make a correct assumption. It wasn’t even a surprising move to kill him. He sounded like a menace, and his son was a shithead. But Franco tightened his lips before he could say anything about the dead man, or his kids. What happened was still wrong and unlawful, and Franco would never dream of doing it himself.
Anyways, it was a final request of Annette’s that was the big surprise.
As soon as she shoved the three kids into a portal, Annette dragged her two spouses into an out-of-the-way room. It was where the dog beds were and where Sagebear was sleeping. She crouched down and spoke in a menacing rumble.
“There isn’t a warrant out for your arrest,” she said to the both of them. “So you can do this for me. You need to find your way to Bridgeport and get Franco’s roommate out here. I have a forged Bar ID and a suit and some legal tips in the dresser, so he can act as my attorney and get me the fuck out of there.”
“You’re rich enough for a real lawyer,” Sinbad said, giving Annette a stern glare.
“I have a good feeling about this guy being as rotten as us, as long as we help him. You just gotta…you know, help him.”
They watched Annette get arrested, with three state troopers holding her at gunpoint. With a scowl and her hands up, Annette walked out the door and let them take her.
That was eight days prior, and Amy and Sinbad spent the interim mulling it over. As crooked as they were too…had Annette gone too far? They always asked that, but before that, they always came around to her side too.
“…and Samira doesn’t prevent this forced companionship thing from happening?” Franco asked.
“No, I obviously just went against my morals and neglected her,” said Sinbad. “This isn’t the point!”
Franco looked down at Amy, who was scowling on the couch. She tapped her fingers on her chin as she face scrunched into a tight scowl. “It’s just a big clusterfuck, that’s all.”
But Seng…Seng looked all too calm at being roped into a Waverly scheme.
“Well, Seng and I have some things to discuss, and you have a cousin,” said Franco.
Amy’s face softened. “We’re counting down to Soo’s death together.”
Once they were gone, it was time for Franco to make sense of the situation himself.
“Hey, now I get to see your hometown,” said Seng, as Franco scowled in their bedroom mirror. He was about to open the middle drawer to find the ring. “In fact, I might be able to kill two birds with one stone-”
Franco forced the ring onto his middle finger, and made a fist at Seng. “I don’t give a damn! If you wanna break every regulation in the book, be my guest. I can cut your lease short.”
“Geez, lemme explain myself.”
“So, I think I told you that Youa decided to go to Terrebonne State after all,” said Seng.
“Then, why not grab her along for the ride? She’s only seen the place once.”
Franco clenched his eyelids shut. “Fine. We can get Youa.”
Franco had already heard enough about the state of Waukesha, the Thao household, and Seng’s little sister to get a good picture of them. Waukesha had a lot of green open space and farmland and more cows than people. The Thaos were technically middle-class but of modest means, and they weren’t always that way. And compared to the Waverlys, they may as well have been street urchins. Little sister Youa was a typical teenage girl. She loved her phone and fawning over semi-androgynous male celebrities, but she did well in school too. That big scholarship from Terrebonne State University was nothing to laugh at.
It was the next day when they beamed into her bedroom. They found Youa just as they expected her. She was texting a friend and laying on her bed, next to a poster of a boy band she was a little ashamed to admit she still liked. She didn’t have any textbooks out, but she had recently graduated and deserved the break.
She turned her head towards the fading blue light and went bug-eyed.
Youa jumped off her bed. “Well…Seng, that’s rude,” she said. “And who’s the tubby one?”
“I’ve told you about Franco,” said Seng. “He’s my roommate from Terrebonne, remember?”
“Are…are you the best the state has to offer? Because I might change my mind and do St. Anselm instead.”
Franco’s face flushed a little. He never regarded himself as unattractive. But maybe he just encountered a bunch of chubby chasers. Twinbrook didn’t have much better to offer, in his mind, but there seemed to always be good-looking men milling about Pearlbrook.
“Oh, there has to be someone,” Franco said, with a fake smile. He started to tap his chin. “Anyways, if you come with us now, we can take a nice trip to the campus tomorrow.”
“Don’t be too optimistic,” said Seng.
“But can it beat the glorious state of Waukesha?” Youa asked. After a beat, she continued. “That was a trick question. This place sucks and I wanna live in your swampy hell.”
“If she says so,” Franco muttered. “Do you have a backpack? I’d rather you didn’t have to borrow my mum’s clothes.”
He was still getting used to using the ring, but the trio got to Twinbrook while it was still morning. The whole town was hazier than Waukesha that day, 20 degrees warmer, and 30 decibels louder. The last one was blamed on the start of cicada season in the region. And instead of landing at the Waverly home, Franco missed a number and sent them the schoolyard.
“Do you guys go through that all the time, or what?” Youa asked, as she almost lost her footing out of the portal.
“Almost never,” said Franco. “But it would save a lot on airfare…you fine exploring the town on your own? Seng and I have to pick up some things at home.”
She took a quick look around the schoolyard, and then stopped with a wide smile. “Actually, this place looks okay. I’ll find my way around.”
Youa disappeared as Seng and Franco started to walk back to the Waverly home. It was where they would pick up a suit and fake ID, and good for them, it was just over the bridge.
Franco got a look at the card Annette provided and, on the inside, was utterly appalled. She couldn’t even forge a name that fit Seng’s ethnicity. The card used a picture of a Chinese man that didn’t look much like him at all. Then again, he did hear about the cheap tricks that she used to forge a birth certificate for herself. Somehow that fooled the government, and the Bar ID looked better. At least she used a plausible number.
The clerk at the police station didn’t even hesitate. “Welcome aboard, Mr. Liu. You’re looking better than ever.”
They were brought to a small, partitioned room to speak with Annette. Standing behind them was the next Officer Goode. Franco remembered her voice from his phone call to the police department some days prior. No wonder she called Annette a bitch that afternoon. She was referring to the woman who killed her father. And nine days later, she still wore all that disdain on her face. She crossed her arms and glared at Franco. But “Mr. Liu” was safe.
“Mum,” Franco said, in a hushed voice. “Wait, what happened to your face?”
She glowered at all three of them. And she was a lot different from how Franco left her. Messy hair and beige prison uniform aside, her eyes sagged with exhaustion. And a new, crack-like scar sprawled from her right eye.
“Bradley Liu…kuv tsis tau ua txhaum.”
“And Ms. Racket, that’s why I’m here,” said Seng. “Officer, can you leave us alone? This isn’t a counseling session. I’m just here to make sure the visit with Ms. Racket and her son goes lawfully.”
“I’m not in the mood to fight.” She walked off, maybe to tend to the desk. Maybe to harass a minority and keep the Goode legacy strong.
“Look, I want you to be as free as any of us,” said Franco. “But what is going on here? I had Sinbad and Amy beam into my flat the other day, and I would’ve thought-”
“They’re not recognized as my spouses in Terrebonne, but that’s another fight I can hire Se–Bradley for.” Annette gave a worrying look up at the CCTV camera in her room. “You can visit, because you’re my son and you’re my lawyer, but they can’t.”
“So you’ve been all alone here?”
“Nine days and counting.”
“Mum, I don’t want you to suffer,” Franco said. “Just…I never asked for that, okay? The most I’d demand is house-arrest.”
“And if Mr. Liu here will do his job, it’ll be even better than that.”
“I aim to,” he said. “And I see you’re learning Hmo…a new language?”
Her face lit up considerably. “Ever since we met last year! It’s goin’ slow and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever spoken.”
“Oh…I’m glad to hear it.”
It wasn’t long before the new Officer Goode came knocking again, but on Annette’s side. She took the tiny woman by the arm and yanked her out of her seat. Franco and Seng had nothing to do but meet with them in the hallway.
The four of them headed towards the end of the hall, to one lonely interrogation room.
They left the door open, leaving Franco to notice his mother and her new, worried look. It might have come from him being cornered by two police officers! Officer Goode and a slightly-older male cop confronted Franco when he said that he just wanted a place to wait.
“You have no reason to be here,” said the male cop. “It’s gonna be long and boring anyways.”
“We’re breaching enough protocol by having to wait this long for her attorney,” said Officer Goode. “You wouldn’t happen to know if anything is going on, would you?”
He felt a lump in his throat.
“Not at all. Liu is a busy man, and he’s doing this pro-bono, but I promised to take him out for coffee,” he said.
“Stay weird, kid.”
If nothing else, Seng looked ready for the job. He leaned over the table he sat at with a menacing glare towards the door.
The deliberation went on for far shorter than the officers made it out to be. What Franco could hear through the walls was limited, but energized and impassioned. Ten minutes with Seng and ten minutes with the officers, and the door opened. Seng could barely get out the door before Annette tackled him with a hug.
“Ua tsaug! Thank you!” She squeezed him with all her might. “I’m so glad you had my back for that.”
“Yeah, it looks super-promising,” said Seng, with a nervous tremor in his voice. “Uh, I think you are on your own for the final steps to get out of here. I have…stuff to do.” As Franco was thinking, a trip to Southeast Asia in less than a week.
“It shouldn’t be an issue,” said Annette, with a cordial smile. “And I’d like to thank the Twinbrook police for being…less than murderous today.”
They couldn’t arrest her for just a mean phrase, after all.
Franco escorted Seng out of the building. “I bet you can’t wait to return to your normal stuff,” he said, with a cheerful voice. “Though I can show you around town.”
“I need a change of clothes,” said Seng. His voice went from spirited when defending Annette to as flat as old soda.
The police station in Twinbrook was just a short walk away from the community pool. They snuck into the bathroom for Seng to change out of his heavy jacket. The temperature broke 80 degrees that day.
“Look, I’m sorry for being snippy about this thing. Maybe it’s just a matter of time before I have no choice but to help her too,” said Franco, watching Seng preen in the mirror. “And I’ll miss you when you’re off in Krung Thep or Viang chan-”
“I just think you assumed the wrong things about me,” said Seng. “And maybe that’s my fault.”
He turned around. “Your mum was right about me. I’m pretty bent. And I’m not gonna change that.”
“So this was thrilling to you?”
“Pretending to be a real lawyer and telling off an entire state’s police for being violent assholes? You bet.”
“That was your argument, then.”
“Terrebonne apparently has a huge problem with police violence. Your mum could easily take that to the court if they didn’t let her go,” Seng said. “So they bought her silence.”
“You do realize there are bigger implications-”
“And that’s just left for them to pester the real Bradley Liu about. He’s a real attorney operating out of Red Stick City, and your mum will just bend him to her will instead. No biggie to me.”
Franco couldn’t even muster the energy to make a scene. If Seng thought that he would look as good in a beige prison jumpsuit as Annette did, or just didn’t care about his standing in law school, it was his prerogative.
“Let’s just find Youa before it gets too dark out,” said Franco.
She sent them a message back. She was at the park in the center of town, and hanging out with a new friend. It warmed Franco a little to think that someone had a good time in Twinbrook that day. And he had never had much of a chance to win over an outsider to his hometown. The first time worked!
It was sunset by the time they walked to the park, and it was easy to find Youa. She by some picnic tables, and wrapped in an embrace with another man! Which wasn’t the issue for Franco. If it was safe and consensual and not abusive, why worry about someone he barely knew?
But his shock and disgust was over who that man was. He could recognize Benji’s vibrant ginger hair from anywhere, even though he grew it out from the last time they met. And it was hard to forgive a man who tried to assault Hannah in some form of revenge. Even if he told excellent jokes and was…well, as handsome as his bio-dad was in his prime.
And to Benji, Youa might have just been a cute stranger passing through town.
“Uh, Youa…we have to get home right now!” Franco rushed through all his words. He grit his teeth. “Right now.”
Benji must have still remembered his voice. He turned around with a cocky stance. “Franco! I never would have guessed that you knew someone so great, and a future Terrebonne State student too.” The pit in Franco’s stomach deepened when he remembered where Benji went to school. And it seemed like there was no changing Youa’s mind about it.
“Yeah, I guess…”
Seng interjected. “Can someone fill me in? It’s not like I’m that disturbed that you wanna do my sister, but…you know.””
“Doesn’t matter, we’re leaving,” said Franco. He stomped over to Youa and grabbed her by the arm.
“What the hell, man?” Youa asked, in a near whisper.
“I wouldn’t forgive myself if I let him hurt you,” Franco said.
“Lighten up. It’s just a feud…I think,” Seng said.
Benji sounded unphased by it all. “Youa! 9 tonight at my place?” She responded with a simple “call me” gesture. It didn’t help that Benji’s family lived only a mile away from the Waverlys.
“Whatever,” said Franco. “But we’re having dinner first. Maybe you’ll reconsider.”
“You wouldn’t after feeling his dick through his jeans.”
He contemplated locking all the doors, but it wasn’t worth it. Franco wanted to be remembered as a good host. Maybe the kebabs on the grill he could smell would help.
Everyone enjoyed the kebabs. They were made with seitan and peppers and Sinbad grilled them like a pro. Franco ate more skewers than he wanted to admit to. And the one time Youa tried to discuss Benji at the table, Sinbad put an end to that. No one was going to gush about his worst little brother if he could help it.
But not matter what happened at the table, Franco couldn’t help but watch Youa texting. He watched her with the utmost contempt. There was a chance that it was just to someone back home…but even then, she might have been bragging about how hot Benji was. Gushing over feeling his dick through his jeans. And there was no stopping her from meeting him again that night. All he could hope for is that they would stay smart and use condoms.
Instead of heading out the door, though, Youa climbed the stairs.
That was odd. Franco hadn’t shown her the upstairs before. Not even the guest room they set up, which maybe he should have thought of doing. It was clear that Youa wasn’t thinking of taking a nap. The guest room was to her left, while she turned to her right.
Into Franco’s room, with the grey decor and sewing supplies pointing to it being none other than his.
Franco pounded on the door, which she locked. “YOUA! Youa, open up! Don’t listen to him!” No one could violate his private rooms without Benji at the helm. And it sounded more and more like Youa was less smart than she seemed, and just guided by thirst.
He found the key and flung the door open, to a half-naked Youa posing in front of his full-length mirror. All she wore was a pair of lacy blue panties. While Franco had no idea what Youa usually wore, he knew that pair well. He bought it for Hannah a year ago, and kept it in his drawer for whenever he spent a weekend in Twinbrook. He kept quite a few pairs of spare undergarments in there for whenever Hannah spent the night. No one else knew about it.
“What the hell?!” Franco screamed. “Why…how evil do you have to be to do this?”
“Oh…I was told it was okay,” Youa said. “Benji said that you might have had something sexier up in your room for me-”
“And you just listen to him when he says that?”
“I’m not wearing fucking Fruit of the Loom to his place, and every store is closed now! And so what if he asked for your girlfriend’s stuff? I’m not gonna judge his kinks.”
“But I just wanna get laid!”
Franco lowered his voice to a menacing grumble. “I don’t need to be friends with you. I barely need to be friends with your brother. You’re both that bad.”
“Yeah, whatever man. He can show me around Terrebonne State better anyways.”
Youa got her clothes back on, but kept that pair of underwear.
“Fine, go to his house. See if I care.” Franco’s voice still bellowed with anger at Youa, but she just went out the door, checking her phone for directions.
A/N: There aren’t that many resources for Hmong online, but any mistakes can be “justified” in-story by Annette not being a native speaker (and Seng just being tickled that anyone cares enough to try such an obscure language). What I tried was “I am not guilty” (a.k.a. source for the title) and “thank you”.
I assume that the police officers initially chalked it up to just being a typical Asian language, because I highly doubt that Goodwin would raise culturally-sensitive kids/promote such values in the station.
Why did Amy and Sinbad get beamed to Franco and not Annette? I think it’s a 50/50 chance of which of them gets any mortal who’s had a prolonged absence. Or…who’s the most plot-convenient. 😉
Waukesha is the chosen state name for parts or all of what we know as Wisconsin, after Waukesha County in the state.
Benji’s back! To be handsome and horrible and obsessed with being horrible. Youa is supposed to come off not as dumb, but naive and hypersexual, and probably selfish. She doesn’t have any strong animosity towards Franco, but sex comes first.